Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz 'playing to full capability' a key reason why Blackhawks' four-line rotation is rolling

Nick Schmaltz 'playing to full capability' a key reason why Blackhawks' four-line rotation is rolling

When the Blackhawks sent Nick Schmaltz down to the American Hockey League on Dec. 4, the goal was to get him acclimated to playing more of the two-way style of hockey Joel Quenneville preaches, and to balance his passing instincts with his shooting ability.

He was there for a little over a month, and just that brief stint has reaped benefits for the Blackhawks' first-round pick in 2014.

After scoring only one goal and three assists in his first 26 games, Schmaltz has five goals and eight assists in the 18 games since he returned to the NHL on Jan. 14, and is a large reason why the Blackhawks' four-line rotation has been clicking over the past month.

"Whatever he did when he went down to Rockford is incredible," said Scott Darling, who stopped 36 of 37 shots in a 4-1 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center on Wednesday night. "Came back with a whole new edge and a whole new intensity, and now you’re seeing the results. He’s playing to the full capability."

Schmaltz added a few more plays to his highlight reel on Wednesday, but he more-so earned brownie points and the trust of his head coach.

After Artem Anisimov went down with a lower-body injury early in the second period, Quenneville was forced to separate the top line that's been on fire, and moved Schmaltz to center on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane.

It was a smooth transition despite not having played there in a while, and it showed quickly.

The 21-year-old rookie hustled back in the neutral zone and stripped the puck away from Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, then fed Kane a quick pass who slipped one past Marc-Andre Fleury for the game's first goal.

"I thought I had a chance at catching him, I just wanted to put pressure on him," Schmaltz said. "I try to do that a lot where I just lift the stick, pull it back, then I saw Kaner there and he made a great shot five-hole."

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but the dagger came with just under four minutes to play when Schmaltz made a nifty little move before delivering a perfect backhand pass to Kane, who buried his second of three on the night.

"You don't want to break up that top line when they're playing so well, but wow, what a couple great plays Schmaltzy made on my first two goals," Kane said.

The win gave the Blackhawks their 10th in the last 11 games, and they've scored at least four goals in each of those victories. Schmaltz has played a big hand in that, on both ends of the ice.

"I thought he had a great game, moving back to center, something he hasn't done for us in a while," Quenneville said. "He fit in perfectly with those two guys. He really took advantage of the situation, and really helped our team and our team game with his play. I think the last four games he's really elevated his game to a different level. Big factor again tonight. Great to see. I like that."

The praise didn't stop there.

"I think that's the thing that you notice in his game," Quenneville continued, when asked about Schmaltz's improvements from earlier in the year. "Whether it's his defensive responsibility, backside pressure, stronger on the puck area, more pace to his game. His confidence with the puck and his playmaking ability is his strength. I saw a couple nice plays by him tonight, and it really gives us some options. Him fitting in that hole where (Anisimov) was, we didn't know it was going to be like that. But I liked how he took advantage of it."

With two more assists, Schmaltz extended his point streak to a season-high five games, where he's potted two goals and seven assists total. He's also registered at least a point in eight of his last nine games, and has 12 points during that span.

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said recently that Schmaltz's confidence has grown immensely, and that can be attributed to his stint in Rockford. That's all the time he needed.

"He knows he can play now at this level," Bowman said. "I don't think there's any question. He's not just trying to get by, he's trying to make a difference now."

He did again on Wednesday, and without him, the Blackhawks wouldn't be on this hot stretch. 

"We’ve got everyone going right now," Schmaltz said. "Hopefully we can keep this rolling."

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

Goal posts apparently aren't kind to the city of Chicago in the playoffs. (Nobody needs a reminder of the double-doink).

So if you hear a ringing sound, you’re not alone. 

The Blackhawks are six games into their postseason run and have hit 12 iron shots so far — 10 off the post, two off the crossbar. Twelve! That’s an average of two per game and a pace of 164 across an 82-game season. For reference, they hit the iron 58 times — 48 off the post, 10 off the crossbar — in 70 games during the regular season.

No team has hit more iron than the Blackhawks (12) since the NHL's 24-team Return to Play tournament started and it's not even close. The next highest? Toronto at six. An incredible gap.

"It's always tough hitting the post," said Drake Caggiula, who's hit one crossbar this postseason. "You’re close to scoring a goal but that’s hockey. It’s all about bounces. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, you've just got to stick with it. It's just something where you've got to keep shooting the puck and trust that you're going to get your chances and make sure that you try and capitalize. But hitting the post is never a fun feeling unless it's going in the net. We've just got to make sure it doesn’t discourage us."

Here's a list of where each team sits when it comes to iron shots, through Thursday's games:

  • 12: Blackhawks
  • 6: Toronto
  • 5: Boston
  • 4: Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers, Vegas
  • 3: Florida, N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • 2: Carolina, Dallas, Edmonton, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg
  • 1: Vancouver
  • 0: Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis


The Blackhawks hit five posts in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, but it was easier to swallow because it came in a win. It wasn't so easy in a Game 2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Patrick Kane, who leads all skaters this postseason with three shots off the post, hit another one with 43 seconds left in the first period on Thursday when the Blackhawks were trailing 2-0. He beat Robin Lehner five-hole, but the puck rang off the pipe and bounced out. 

You could see the frustration in his face:

The Blackhawks did, however, get a nice break on Dominik Kubalik's power-play goal that tied the game at 2-2. His shot went off the inside of the post and in.

But the one that kept Chicago awake is the crossbar shot in overtime. 

Just 1:53 into extra time, Dylan Strome fired a 35-foot wrist shot from the right faceoff circle and rang it off the bottom part of the crossbar. He lifted his hands in the air thinking it was a goal. It was centimeters away from going bar down but bounced out instead.

The Blackhawks are certainly getting their chances. It's challenging to stick with it when the puck luck isn't going your way, but you have to earn your bounces and the Blackhawks must keep pushing through. That's the message.

"We've had our chances," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Sometimes it's like that. The key is, how long can we stick with it? How long can we be persistent when we face adversity? We've faced some adversity here over the first couple games. Do we have the character to overcome it? It's an opportunity for our guys.

"You play all year to be in these games, so now we're here and we've faced some adversity. So what? Just keep playing and believe in what we're doing and believe in the guys in the room and we're going to give them a run."

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Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

On Thursday in Game 2, the Blackhawks tested Robin Lehner more than they did in Game 1 of the first round Stanley Cup Playoff series, when he only had to save 19 of 20 shots.

The Hawks were able to put 25 pucks on the Golden Knights' net, with three getting past Lehner to take the game to overtime where Vegas would triumph to take a 2-0 series lead.

"It was a little bit of a weird game," Lehner said following his Game 2 win. "There was not that much to do and I thought they had some good chances. I thought that Chicago played really well. Everyone keeps saying they're (the) underdog, but you look at their team: the experience, the skill... it's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out there. It's a lot of skill and they're world class players, so when they get opportunities it's hard. I got to look at the tape, I think I can be a little bit better, but a win's a win."

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is ureal

With the victory, Lehner remains unbeaten in the 2020 postseason (4-0) and unbeaten as a Golden Knight. 

The 29-year-old netminder went 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage with the Knights during the regular season ahead of the NHL Pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12. 

Related: Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

Lehner was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk this season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champ with the Pittsburgh Penguins, may have lost the starter job to Lehner, at least for now. Fleury was only in net for one Golden Knights' round-robin game, with Lehner starting the rest of the postseason contests so far.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.